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16 February 2021

Looking for Cliff Tyrell

I've featured the National Archive blog before (here) and they've got another interesting post at the moment about comic artist Cliff Tyrell. 

The post, by Rachael Minnott, is here but here's a snippet...

It wasn’t until I gained access to an article in the Journal of the St Agnes Museum Trust, penned by Tyrell’s daughter, Theresa Edwards, in 2017-2018 in memory of her father, where Tyrell was in central focus. Writing the story of her father’s life and journey from Jamaica to St Agnes, Edwards had explored many avenues of research, using personal collection items and stories of her father. The article was written 25 years after his passing, and he had suffered with dementia in his later life.

With Edwards as the author you get a touching personal account of her father’s life, but with echoes of all the unknowns. The incomplete notes on his friendship and influence tantalise with their promise of his impact, but trail off; the archives are incomplete and Tyrell’s story is still a puzzle with pieces missing. 

In the UK it was Tyrell’s daughter who had been researching and correcting sources about her father for years. In Jamaica it was Paulet Kerr, whose passion and appreciation of his impact as a political cartoonist had allowed me to work towards piecing together some of his story.

The piece that I would like to add to this puzzle is that of an art historian exploring Tyrell’s work – examining how he compared to his contemporaries, why he may have shifted from cartoons to sculpture, and how we might consider him within the canon of Jamaican art and the wider world.

From Edwards’ article and a subsequent call we shared, I know that Tyrell left Jamaica in 1937 on a British Council scholarship to study at the Central School of Arts and Crafts (today Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, University of the Arts, London) supposedly funded by Dr Josiah Oldfield 3.

After art school, he served with the RAF for a short period of time, working in a torpedo factory in North London. Edwards explains that her father suffered something akin to a nervous breakdown and that a dear friend of his invited him to stay in Edinburgh to recover. This is where he met and married Theresa’s mother. They lived in London together for some time, but she was uncomfortable with the bohemian lifestyle of the London art scene.

After coming into a small inheritance, she bought a small house in Cornwall, far away from her Scottish family, who disapproved of her relationship to Tyrell, and left London in hopes that she and Tyrell could enjoy a quiet life together, building him a studio space from which to work. But Cliff did not want to leave London and, for many years, only stayed with them in Cornwall part-time, as he tried to make it as an artist. He never truly made a living from his work. the National Archives blog post is here and if you can help with more info. about Cliff Tyrell don't hesitate to get in touch with them.

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